What a difference a little attention can make, even to the Internal Revenue Service.
Lyndon McLellan was a man in trouble with the government, but he didn’t deserve to be. The store owner from Fairmont, in Robeson County, had over $100,000 in his business bank account seized by the federal government under seizure and civil forfeiture laws. The IRS uses the laws to chase down drug dealers and others in the wrong kinds of businesses who make cash deposits in banks that are substantial but under the $10,000 level that requires government reporting.
The IRS has backed off such pursuits following lots of complaints from small-business owners who said they were being unfairly targeted. But unfortunately for McLellan, his case was already in the pipeline when policy changed.
After a New York Times report (The News & Observer also wrote about him), McLellan became an example of the IRS’s stubbornness. The government seemed to recognize its mistake, but even so offered him a deal in which only half of his money would have been returned. They were wrong, but they still wanted half McLellan’s money.
Now, U.S. Attorney Thomas Walker has dropped the case. Congrats to Walker, who’s about the only fed who seems to have applied common sense here. The civil forfeiture law allows law enforcement to seize property even if no charges are filed and to proceed with forfeiture proceedings, during which the business owner is required to prove innocence.
This is upside down. It is an infringement on citizens’ rights and the presumption of innocence. The government’s attitude toward McLellan seems to have been that if he wasn’t in the wrong, he was the one who had to prove it, and that the government is always right anyway. This is the kind of episode that makes enemies for the IRS, and understandably so.